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CNN NEWSROOM

Powerful Category 5 Hurricane Maria Slamming Puerto Rico; Rescue Crews Search for Survivors After Deadly Quake. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Michelle Kosinski, outside the United Nations, a very busy day there. Michelle thanks so much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: And good morning, everyone, John Berman here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. This hour and for hours to come, Hurricane Maria right now pummeling Puerto Rico, doing its worst damage and by worst, I mean 145-mile-an-hour winds, a foot or more of rain, and a storm surge of 6 feet or higher.

BERMAN: CNN's Leyla Santiago and Derek Van Dam are in San Juan for us right now. Leyla, first to you, you got outside a few minutes ago. You've had a chance to assess some of the damage. Tell our viewers exactly what you're seeing.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, we still have heavy winds and rain, still coming down as Hurricane Maria continues her path through Puerto Rico. But I'll let you take a look behind me. Because if you just look at the debris on the ground, if you just look at the trees that continue to sway, I know we're wiping off the camera right now, given that there are heavy rains coming down.

But take a look at these apartment complexes that no longer have some of the boards that were put up. Some of the metal sheeting that went up. They are just completely exposed in areas.

And then let me bring you back down a little bit, so that you can see the impact to businesses here. The trees are still swaying quite a bit. A little left on them. And then look at that Hard Rock Cafe that has a tree completely come down. The Hard Rock Cafe sign is on the ground. Starbucks Coffee, next to it, only has the word coffee up because the rest of the sign came down. And its neighbor there, another business next door, the door completely came down.

I just stepped into this hotel. The alarm is going off at this hour. And actually, when I was inside, I was able to talk to somebody who has family in Guayama. That is the southern side of Puerto Rico. And she is telling me that her family is seeing quite a bit of destruction right now on the southern side of the island. There are a lot of people in shelters right now, thousands. At last check, more than 11,000 people in shelters, still trying to ride out this storm, this Category 4 hurricane. The last time Puerto Rico saw something like this was in 1932. So for many people on this island, of this generation, they have never lived through something like this. And I tell you, this is going to be very hard to rebuild, because this is an island that is financially very unstable right now, very much in debt.

I can actually still hear, right now, it seems like there is some roofing being impacted right now. I can hear it, some debris moving around somewhere. It's hard to tell exactly where that is. But my point is this isn't over yet. Winds are still coming in strong. Poppy, John?

HARLOW: Leyla Santiago, thank you very much for the reporting and braving it all for us so people can see the first of the damage in a storm that is far from over. Stand by.

Let's go to our Derek Van Dam. He is also in San Juan. I'm not sure how far you are from Leyla, but give us the perspective and what you're seeing from your vantage point.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, she's at the front of the hotel that we're at and we are on the backside facing the ocean. And Maria, obviously, moved through the region. It's now about 30 miles just to our west. So we are on the backside of the storm.

And we've had the general manager of the hotel asking me really specific questions about, is the worst of the storm over? And the answer to that is, yes, but it doesn't mean the storm is over. Because every so often, every five minutes, maybe even less, 60 seconds, we'll get this strong gust of wind, because it's always at eastern/northeastern quadrant of the eye that brings some of the worse weather out of these storms. It just happens to be that this storm has moved far enough to our west, where we're really out of the eye wall. So, that's good news for San Juan.

But boy, it was incredible to see how this wind picked up overnight. Everyone had to be moved in from this hotel into the interior part of the hotel. We hunkered down inside of the staircase there and rode out the storm together. Harrowing stories from people who actually evacuated from St. Johns, from Hurricane Irma and then they're greeted with Hurricane Maria two weeks later. So there's just no escape from these massive hurricanes that sweep through the island nations here. It's just incredible. So this was the strongest hurricane to make landfall since 1928.

We know the winds were powerful, upwards of 155 miles per hour.

[10:05:00] But the topography of Puerto Rico has done a number on Hurricane Maria. It's actually squeezed out the available moisture to it. We lost that moisture source from the ocean, now that the eye has moved over land, and we're starting to see that the center of the storm kind of collapse in on it. And that's good news, because that means the storm is eventually going to start to weaken before, eventually, exiting off into the ocean. That doesn't mean the storm is over.

Turks and Caicos, you're next, but the storm will be in a weakened state, without a doubt.

Storm surge, as you look out towards the distance behind me, hasn't been too much of a concern here. But again, we are on the backside of this system. So we don't want to say this threat from storm surge is just over yet. John, Poppy?

HARLOW: All right, Derek Van Dam, thank you so much, our CNN meteorologist there on the backside, reporting from where Leyla Santiago is, as well. Stand by.

Let's go to our Weather Center. Chad Myers is here. Just to reiterate, he's in a hotel that's standing. And all of these are standing because they are concrete and they were built to code, right? But for the rest of Puerto Rico, what's your outlook?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is city and country. I mean, I don't know how to describe the outlying areas of Puerto Rico any better than that. They're in a microcosm of concrete jungle. And the rest of Puerto Rico is not a concrete jungle. It is the countryside. It is what you would expect to push an EF2 tornado that might last 20 or 30 minutes, into the country. And so, these wooden structures don't have the stability nor the strength that what we're seeing in Puerto Rico.

When our Nick Paton Walsh, which is right there, near Palmas Del Mar in Humacao, that will be area that will really be hit hard, because that's where the eye went over. And that's where the buildings aren't as strong.

Now, El Conquistador, the big hotel on the northeast corner of the island, that I'm sure will be fine. Maybe some windows and such, but a concrete building poured concrete block structure.

So, even for the next few hours, as the storm moves away, this storm is right now on the coast, 20 miles west of San Juan. It's on the coast about to exit into the Atlantic Ocean and then try to rebuild itself. Because just as Derek was saying, it spent about -- let me look at the clock now. It spent about four hours over the island itself.

Now, it will get back into the water and it will have its energy back. It will have its energy source back, the warm water of the Atlantic Ocean. And it will try to regain strength, regain power, and make the pressure go down again, like it was.

Now, this storm, when it hit St. Croix, was a much different beast. And when it hit - and then into Vieques, was a much different beast than when it actually made landfall. Overnight, I was watching it, honestly, in disbelief. This was a 175 mile per hour storm with the pressure still going down. It blew itself up a little bit overnight. So, what became an un-survivable storm at about four hours offshore, kind of calmed down a little bit. So, from 175 to 155 and I know that may not seem like a lot, 20 miles per hour, but it's huge when it comes to just hunkering down and trying to let the debris fly over your head.

There is the latest, greatest model, U.S., and also the European model. Still saying this stays offshore. But not too far offshore, which I'm going to have to keep watching this, because I don't think this game is over yet. We'll have to watch it for the rest. This is still seven, eight days, nine days away. That's not a forecast. Trust me. That's a guess. So you can't hold me to this line. I want to show you where it is.

HARLOW: OK. Chad Myers, thank you very much. We'll get back to you in just a minute.

But on the phone now, we have Lieutenant Commander Ryan Kelley with the U.S. Coast Guard with us. He's joining us from Miami, but he's in constant communication with the folks in Puerto Rico. What is your assessment at these early hours when frankly, Hurricane Irma has not passed over the island completely?

LT. CMDR. RYAN KELLEY, COAST GUARD (via telephone): Yes. No, thank you for having me on and yes, we're on regular communications checks with our folks there in Puerto Rico, also to assess their well-being, but to get the reports from them as the storm passes. And it is certainly very similar to the conditions that your reporters are reporting, very high winds, lots of rain, and certainly some flooding in some areas. And so, they're updating us on those situations while we assess and continue to assess our ability to respond in the aftermath of the storm, once it's safe for our first responders to do so.

BERMNA: And Commander Kelley, what do you expect those first responders to be doing? What will be the first order of business?

KELLEY: Yes. First order of business will be life-saving search and rescue operations, just as soon as we can do and launch our assets to do that. We have Coast Guard cutters who will be -- who have evaded the storm, and they will be coming in with air assets, as well as if we're able to launch air assets, internally, from Puerto Rico we will do so, to do life-saving operations, which is first and foremost, our first priority in the aftermath of the storm.

[10:10:16] And then obviously, the second priority, and focus of the Coast Guards, second only to these life-save operations is getting those ports reopened, so that critical resources can begin toll flow into those sea ports, which will certainly be a need in the aftermath of Maria.

HARLOW: What are the unique challenges that Puerto Rico is facing right now? I mean, the spokesman for the governor was on with us a little bit earlier. Said this is historic proportions, as Leyla reported, they have not seen a storm like this, perhaps in the history or at least since the early 1930s. What are they going to face after this passes?

KELLEY: Well, you know, I can't speak on behalf of, you know, the civic leaders or what they're going to see internally there. What I can tell you is for the Coast Guard, you know, we -- our men and women train for this. We have gone through Harvey and then just recently, Irma. Our men and women are ready to respond and our assets and people both on the ground in Puerto Rico and those that will be flying in and coming in via Coast Guard cutter and boat. They're ready to respond and assist the people of Puerto Rico, just as soon as we can safely do so.

BERMAN: Commander, I'm not sure whether the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Croix are part of the 7th District. I'm hoping they are, because our viewers have been writing us all during the show, wanting any information they can get from St. Croix, which, of course, did get hit by Hurricane Maria, before it went after Puerto Rico. Any news from that island?

KELLEY: Yes. I can tell you that -- thank you for bringing that up, as well. The U.S. Virgin Islands is also a top priority for us to respond to, as well. That is within our 7th District and both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were in the path, as you know, of Hurricane Maria, so not just life-saving operations and port assessment and reopening in Puerto Rico, but in St. Croix and St. Thomas. And communications are challenging. We have evacuated the majority, almost all of our people and assets from -- relocated, I'm sorry, all of our people and assets from those areas, just temporarily, and we will bringing them back just as soon as it's safe to do so. And the U.S. Virgin Islands is obviously one of those areas that we're going to be addressing, just as soon as we can.

HARLOW: OK. So there you have that. Again, John, rightly bringing up, we can't get communication with our guests that we were supposed to speak with there, reporters. As soon as we do, we will bring you more. We are focusing on Puerto Rico because our reporters can tell us what's going on there. We just cannot reach anyone that we were supposed to talk to in St. Croix or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lieutenant Commander, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Fascinating, the Coast Guard waiting to get out and see the damage as soon as they can. We'll check back in and we'll get a situation assessment as soon as possible.

In the meantime, there is more breaking news. The earthquake in Mexico City, 7.1 magnitude. We are live on the scene as crews are searching for survivors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:30] HARLOW: All right. Let's get to our other breaking news this morning out of Mexico City, after a devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake has toppled buildings there, crews frantically searching for survivors. The death toll is mounting. We now know it stands at 225, with many of those still missing. You're seeing some video, obviously, of them searching for any survivors. People lining in the streets with buckets to clear debris, moments after the quake struck.

BERMAN: Also just in to CNN, this emotional moment first responders singing a traditional Mexican song as they sifted through debris last night. Listen.

And so many people out to help. CNN's Rosa Flores near Mexico City. Rosa, tell us what you're seeing where you are.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, I was just allowed to go beyond the caution tape to get a closer look of what is happening, closer to this building that you see behind me that's collapsed. And just to be your eyes and ears to a place where we can't go with our television cameras, I can tell you that there was a very coordinated effort to not only sift through the debris, like you're seeing from this vantage point, but on the ground, there is a bucket-by-bucket effort to remove this debris to search for life.

Now, we've been here for hours. And we can tell you that the efforts here have been relentless. We have seen crews come in, more resources come in. Because as you mentioned, there are dozens of buildings that have collapsed here in Mexico City. And just to give you an idea of the capacity and the -- just how dangerous this earthquake is, we are 75 miles from the epicenter. We're not even that close to the epicenter, but this is considered a shallow earthquake. The shallower the earthquake, the more dangerous the earthquake is.

Right now, it's already turned deadly. We know that there are dozens of buildings that have been collapsed, that have collapsed, rather, here in Mexico City. There are people trapped. The people that you see behind me have been here for hours, waiting to hear about their loved one. They are hoping at some point, their loved one will emerge from the rubble that you see behind me, alive. And so, there's also a list behind me, and names have been added as people are getting rescued.

[10:20:04] We've had people come here by our location asking about their loved ones, asking if there is any news about more people getting rescued. From talking to some of the first responders, they do tell me that at least four people have been rescued this morning, and there are signs that perhaps more rescues could happen.

And what I mean by that is there are ambulances that are constantly arriving. And that's what one of the first responders told me earlier this morning. He said, Rosa, every single time that you see an ambulance depart from this building, that means that someone has been rescued, that individual being taken to a hospital, to a location where they can be treated. And at that point, they communicate with the family members. A lot of them, John and Poppy, they just have an agonizing wait behind me. They're just hoping and praying that they'll be able to see their loved one once more. John, Poppy?

HARLOW: Of course they are. Rosa Flores, thank you so much for that reporting. We will get back to you shortly.

But we do want to take you now to our reporter, Gustavo Valdes, because rescue teams are desperately searching for dozens of children that are trapped inside of a collapsed school in Mexico City as a result of this earthquake. What are you seeing? I know that they had, you know, at least 30 children missing.

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN ESPANOL REPORTER: Well, a little bit of change of activity right now. Let me show you. They have pulled out the big, heavy backhoe that was digging a few minutes ago. They have changed to the smaller, bobcat-type machinery that is removing the debris. And we're also seeing a lot of people filling up buckets with concrete and dust, a sign that they might be moving into a more delicate part of the search.

A few minutes ago, I talked to one of the volunteers that are working on this rescue and they say they believe there's an L-shaped part of the collapsed building where they think they might find people, but we haven't heard any official reports of any contact with either children or teachers that might be trapped. They have -- they have a very efficient-looking, at least from where we're standing. It looks like they have a very well-coordinated effort with the Mexican Marine, with the local police, the Red Cross, professional search and rescue teams, and there are doctors and ambulances on standby in case they do find somebody alive under this collapsed building.

What we have been seeing are parents waiting. We understand they have been taken to another area to avoid any emotional outbursts. And this place is full with volunteers who are coming with food, with water for the workers and also for many residents in this area who had to abandon their homes last night, because their buildings are all so damaged. So we will continue to monitor the situation here, and hopefully we'll have good news to report rather here soon.

BERMAN: We can only help, Gustavo Valdes for us down in Mexico. The wait for those parents must be excruciating. We will check back with Gustavo as soon as he has news. Again as he said, hopefully it is good news.

In the meantime, we're waiting for more news from Puerto Rico, as well, Hurricane Maria, devastating that island, an island of 3.5 million Americans. We'll get an update just after the break.

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[10:27:55] BERMAN: Puerto Rico right now, an island of 3.5 million people getting pummeled by Hurricane Maria. It has been happening for hours and hours.

HARLOW: That's right. More than 3 million American citizens in the midst of this right now, the governor and his spokesman calling this a storm of historic proportion.

Let's go to our Chad Myers, who's standing by in our Weather Center with more. It's not over yet for Puerto Rico.

MYERS: No. That's right. Even though the eye is now lifting north of the beach on the west and northwest corner of Puerto Rico, there is still much more to go. Winds are going to gust to 100 in many spots, especially the higher elevations and it is still raining, just to the north of Ponce. And that's where I expect the flash flooding to occur later on today. We're already seeing a couple of pictures of flash flooding.

This is a 5 1/2-hour satellite loop. The storm came onshore about 6:00 a.m. this morning. It moved right to the south of Palmas Del Mar and to the south of San Juan, and now it's moving offshore. Some were just like that. If you were on the north side of this eye, this is called the dirty side, because you not only had the 145 mile per hour wind, but you had the forward motion that you have to add to it. This is the cleaner side, you still have the wind, but you also have the other way, because where wind is blowing this way and the storm is going that way. So it's additive and subtractive.

And the big problem, I think, is when we get out into the countryside and truly see what happened over here, anywhere, you know, 50 miles north southeast and west of the rain forest called El Yunque (ph), this is the area that we're truly going to see where the damage occurred. And we're going to see a lot in San Juan, don't get me wrong.

But there are going to be power lines that people have no idea where they came from. They don't even know what house that they were attached to. They're just lying in the street. So we're going to have a hard time getting there, because transportation is going to be hard because there's just so much debris on the roadway. And the power lines, most of them will not be working for what they say now, months. And even water. Water maybe a very difficult thing. How do you bring the water -- fresh water to 2 or 3 million people and have it distributed if there's just no running water? And that's likelihood for at least some time.